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Principals express concerns to Chilton BOE

By Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith/ Freelance writer

The Chilton County Board of Education met Oct. 26 and listened for a two and half hours as principals from around the county voiced their school concerns and frustrations amid COVID-19.

Since the meeting was a work session, no motions could be made or approved.

An echoing theme was a concern for teachers and the increase of work demands being placed on them during the pandemic. Specific concerns included teachers being over-worked while teaching students in person and online, while trying to contact students that are not turning any assignments in, having to clean their own classrooms and receiving long paper trails from work assignments that students without internet service turn in. Some principals shared that many teachers are using personal days to get caught up on work and are in need of respite.

Many principals voiced concern that the majority of online students are failing one or more classes. Some of the students who have chosen the online option, not having turned in any assignments since the beginning of the school year, are signing in for daily attendance which currently keeps them from being reported for truancy. Principals asked the board to consider an intervention and solution going forward that will allow students to bring their grades up. Educators are concerned that the influx of failing students will overcrowd classrooms next year when failing students have to take the class again.

The majority of teachers are encouraging failing students to return to the classroom now even though the nine-week trial period is not over.

“It doesn’t make sense to contact a parent and let them know that their child is failing but that they need to wait to the end of nine weeks before we allow them back,” Jemison High School Principal Kendall Jackson said.

Ron Pinson, Chilton County High School principal, voiced his opposition to allowing students back before the trial ends.

“Whether they are traditional or online students they need to commit,” said Pinson. “I had 12 (students return) today alone which means that I had to change their status online. We had to rearrange our classroom seating charts and resubmit that to the school nurse.”

A potential solution offered by principals was to make a student return to in-person learning if their grades drop below a certain level.

Across the county, schools reported that their school nursing needs were being met. However, there is a greater need for custodial care and English Language Learner (ELL) support.

Other important issues discussed included concerns for the lack of substitute teachers being available who are willing to work during the pandemic for such small pay. Superintendent Jason Griffin said that the Board was already in discussion that substitutes needed a pay increase and that it would be addressed at the next meeting.

A special called board meeting has been set for Nov. 9 at 4:30 p.m. at the Central Office. The next regularly scheduled meeting will be Nov. 17.

“Everybody has a different opinion on what the steps forward should be,” Griffin said. “It’s not easy. We are trying to make the best decisions with what we have. I am taking everything into consideration. I appreciate your prayers.”

School board members Brad Carter, Pam Price, Chris Smith, Jacqueline Sullivan and Angie Sanderson were in attendance.